Environment and Rural Affairs

A Growing Economy and a Protected Environment: The free-market case for the environment

In a debate heavily dominated by left-wing voices and ideas, putting forward a pro-market environmentalist vision appears to be a futile endeavor. Chances are, if you’re a university student, that you promote a brand of environmentalism endorsed by Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg. One in which capitalism is portrayed as the root of all evil, economic growth as antithetical to environmental sustainability, and system change as the ultimate goal of climate activism. We must take responsibility for allowing this to happen.

Those of us on the conservative or libertarian side of the debate must hold our hands up and admit: we simply haven’t been good enough. For too long, our side has ignored the issue of climate change, either out of sheer incompetence or out of malicious, denialist intent. Yet, a new generation of environmentalists are standing up, and promoting ideas that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of the climate debate. Embodied by the British Conservation Alliance, this generation believes that environmental and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive, that the market is a force for good that can be harnessed towards positive environmental change, and that innovation, not regulation, will prevent the worst outcomes of climate change.

At the British Conservation Alliance, we promote one overarching principle: it is entirely possible to have both a growing economy and a protected environment. It is an absolute myth and disingenuous lie to claim otherwise. The evidence is striking: environmental progress is most advanced in richer, developed countries, where air pollution has been drastically reduced, we have reached ‘peak carbon emissions,’ populations of endangered species are rebounding, and there is more green land than in the Middle Ages. Indeed, our carbon emissions per unit of economic output are on the decline, the consumption of 66 out of 72 resources (such as copper, stone, aluminium, etc.) has peaked and is now going down in absolute terms, and deforestation has U-turned to the extent that European forest area has now grown by 0.3% annually since 1999. This is not only because we have reached a level of prosperity that brings with it environmental awareness and social pressure, but also simply because capitalism is a system that promotes efficiency and using more with less. As the Environmental Performance Index, published yearly by the universities of Yale and Columbia, indicates: the countries with the most economic freedom also have the best environmental outcomes metric by metric. 

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems with the current system. There are. Too many regulatory barriers still exist to the emergence and competition of innovative technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear fusion, artificial intelligence, and GMO-crops. Meanwhile, governments continue to prop up fossil fuels through subsidies to the tune of $10 million per minute, and often turn a blind eye to the rampant environmental degradation of such industries. However, this does not mean that what we need is the overthrow of capitalism. Indeed, government is very often the problem when it comes to the environment. At its most extreme, the Soviet Union turned entire lakes into sewers, transformed complete ecosystems into smoke-stacks, and required twice as much carbon emissions for the same unit of economic output as the capitalist West. 

What we need, more than anything, is to create the necessary conditions to allow innovators to innovate and come up with the solutions to climate change. This requires loosening regulations on emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and nuclear fusion, maintaining economic growth through low taxes and limited government intervention, and coming up with creative solutions such as Clean Asset Bonds & Loans, which leverage the vast amounts of private capital necessary to fund clean projects. We don’t need system change and regulation, we need innovation.

But what does all this mean for you, the student disillusioned with the direction of the environmental debate? Firstly, the BCA is the largest environmental campus network in the entire UK. We have a presence at around 30 universities across the country, where our Campus Coordinators organise events, discussions, panels, and grassroots activism to promote these ideas. We have hosted debates on topics from nuclear energy to market environmentalism, as well as organised activities such as a BCA Beach Clean in Aberystwyth courtesy of Wales National Coordinator Sam Hall. If you are interested, you can apply to join our campus network here. You can also invite one of our speakers to come deliver a presentation about Market Environmentalism at your university. 

Secondly, we are at the forefront of a new environmental movement with innovative solutions to our climate problems. Most of these ideas are encapsulated in our upcoming book, Green Market Revolution, launched on the 29th of June. This is the first-ever international book on market environmentalism, bringing together 20 authors from 15 organisations in 5 countries – topped off with a foreword by Daniel Hannan. This is a must-read for anyone interested in these ideas. A free PDF copy will be downloadable from the website, as of June 29th. 

Thirdly, do engage with us on our social media channels. We have an uphill struggle to compete with the online presence of movements like Extinction Rebellion, so any likes, retweets, shares, or comments are very helpful to spreading our message far and wide. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Ultimately, there is a space in the environmental movement for conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians who believe in pro-market, free-enterprise solutions to our environmental problems. Join the fastest growing environmental network in the country to promote these ideas at your university and beyond. 


Chris Barnard is the President and founder of the British Conservation Alliance.


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